DC parents push for safety upgrades, virtual learning options for students as hospitals see more child COVID cases

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This article was written by Jess Arnold of WUSA9 on September 15, 2021.

Two DCPS parents wrote a letter to city officials sharing their families’ experiences and suggestions to make schools safer.

Both Danica Petroshius and Shelley Carr-Brown have kids in sixth and eighth grade at Capitol Hill Montessori School…and both had kids test positive for COVID within the first two weeks of school.

“We both feared the opening of school, because we weren’t sure what the safety measures were,” Petroshius said. “And by Labor Day, Monday, my son had symptoms and tested positive on Tuesday, who’s 11 years old, is unvaccinated, who was wearing a K 95 -N95 and a surgical over it to school.”

She said the only time her son had his mask off was at lunch and when he was part of a random sample of COVID testing.

Petroshius said she asked doctors and DCPS if she should keep her vaccinated 13-year-old daughter, who did not have symptoms, home, and they said she could go to school.

A few days later, she started to show congestion, and both she and her daughter tested positive.

Similarly, Carr-Brown’s daughter, who is 11, ended up contracting COVID but wasn’t showing symptoms at first and was told she could attend school.

“I’m guess I’m so frustrated because it’s the lack of notification, the lack of information from the school,” she said.

So, these two moms sent a letter to city and school officials, requesting more safety precautions and virtual learning options.

“We believe that there has to be better transparency and communications and they have to work faster,” Petroshius said. “We need more testing.”

The Deputy Mayor of Education sent WUSA 9 the following statement in response: 

“We appreciate our families for sharing their concerns regarding our school reopening. This has been both a time of excitement and uncertainty for our community as we welcome our students back for in-person learning. We have and will continue to work together to implement strong, layered health and safety measures that keep our students, staff, and families safe as they learn in school.”

DC Public Schools sent the below statement:

“DCPS is deeply committed to maintaining a safe learning environment for our students. Our layered mitigation strategy to preventing the spread of COVID-19 in our schools aligns with DC Health and CDC guidance. We recognize that this is a difficult time for many of our families and the real anxiety associated with the pandemic. We will continue to engage with families about the measures in place within our schools. As we have done since reopening our doors last year, we continuously review, assess and strengthen our health and safety measures as needed and based on the latest guidance.

DCPS’s mitigation strategy against COVID-19 focuses on three key pillars. Our approach is based on preventing the spread of COVID-19 with universal masking, physical distancing, enhanced air filtration and cleaning, and a robust campaign for our community to get vaccinated. We are screening for COVID-19 symptoms with daily health assessments for students and staff, and we will have regular asymptomatic testing for students. We are also keeping our families informed if there is a COVID-19 case within their school and within their class and publicly sharing every notice on our DCPS Reopen Strong website.”

Some of the kids sent home are ending up in hospitals, like Children’s National Hospital in DC, which said it had to go to surge capacity recently.

“We’re seeing an increased number of patients who require hospitalization,” Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Wessel said. “There seem to be two main factors involved here. One is an early and large peak in what we would usually see as a winter respiratory viral illness pattern. The other factor here is that we’re also seeing more COVID patients.”

Dr. Wessel emphasized that they have been preparing for potential surges, so they are well-equipped to handle any more cases that may come through the doors.

He said as of Monday, they had 22 COVID patients compared to 18 children hospitalized with COVID at the peak.

He urges any parents concerned about their child’s symptoms to first consult with their pediatrician so as not to overwhelm emergency rooms.

The University of Maryland Capital Region Health center, however, said their ER has yet too see too much of an uptick.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Joseph Wright, who is also a pediatric emergency physician, expects to see a surge in cases and hospitalizations in a few weeks, because of school reopenings and the Labor Day holiday.

Right now, he is urging adults to do their part to protect kids who can’t yet get vaccinated.

“The Delta variant is is four to five times more transmissible than the ancestral strain the original strain, so that the best prevention is vaccination,” Dr. Wright said. “Vaccinated adults in families will prevent transmission to unvaccinated children.